Cheap GMO imports ruin local chicken business

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Forty-five year old Sthabile Makonese used to buy live chickens from her neighbour who used to run a poultry project from her backyard in Mabvuku.

Over the years she had always felt that her neighbour was overcharging her. For a single bird she would be parting with around $8 which was far beyond her reach.

Last year Makonese just lost her business relationship with the neighbour after getting information that a butchery in the neighbourhood was selling cheap chicken pieces from as low as $2,50 a kg.

For her family of six she, had indeed found the solution to the family’s meat needs.

Little did she know that she was now buying low priced but heavily genetically modified (GM)South African and South American chickens which are full of salt water.

“The chicken doesn’t taste good,” said Makonese.

“During the first days I thought I was using wrong recipes but I have concluded that they are not good. I have now resolved to keep my own chickens in the backyard.”

Today there is an outcry over the continued importation of the GM chickens with local poultry producers saying this had negatively impacted on their industry.

Local producers say the poultry industry has been hit by a crisis brought about by unrestricted imports of chicken.

They say the crisis was sparked by the economic downturn two years ago, which led to hyperinflation.

In the past 10 years the poultry industry worldwide followed the pork industry by injecting the meat with a brine (salt water) solution.

The farmers argue that if the brine was used properly it would be beneficial to both the producer and the consumer.

However, unscrupulous producers from outside our borders were allegedly abusing this brine treatment.

The right formular, according to agricultural experts, is to inject about 15% of brine into the chicks.

GM chickens take less than four weeks from incubation to slaughter while those produced using organic feeds take the normal long route of about six weeks, which is expensive.

This makes locally produced chicken more expensive.

The Zimbabwe Poultry Association and the Government Veterinary Department have urged poultry producers to limit brine to 15%.

But in recent years, the farmers say, South African producers have started pumping unethical levels of brine into chicken as high as 60%.

“At 50% addition this means that one third of the chicken contains brine,” a source in the poultry industry said.

The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ) Chief Executive Officer Rosemary Siyachitema said: “We have heard this problem since sometime last year and we have networked with other government departments to strategise on how best we can deal with this problem.”

“Consumers are being tricked into buying chickens whose weight is falsified by this salt and water.

Look, if people wanted to drink salt and water they would do so directly without having to get it from chicken. We really do need to deal with this violation of consumer rights,” said Siyachitema.

The move to allow uncontrolled imports of meat, including poultry, was deliberately taken by government to improve product availability following years of commodity shortages in the country.

The Livestock Meat Advisory Council (LMAC) which used to strictly control the importation of all meat products into Zimbabwe stopped doing so in 2008 after the country was no longer self-sufficient in the production of chickens.

Head of LMAC Doctor Mario Befa was not immediately available for comment this week.

The Director of Livestock Production and Development Bothwell Makodza said: “The question which we should be asking ourselves right now is whether the chickens are fit for human consumption.

“You might be thinking that you are buying cheap products but it’s all full of water.”

He claimed the South African producers argue that there were no laws in their country that limit them to the 15% brine inclusion.

“Again, because of the market forces, people end up buying the highly brined chickens which bring in quick returns for business. The products have a ready market because people are still buying them,” added Makodza.

Traditional distributors that normally supply Zimbabwean produced chicken have been given unlimited quotas by government to import South African and South American chicken.

The profit margins for these distributors have more than doubled with the imported chicken.